The Corporate Case for Mentoring the Grads of Life

There's no doubt we have a rapidly changing economy and a labor force undergoing dramatic shifts, but we also operate on a proven principle that support and connection leads to opportunity and productivity. Right now, there is an untapped pool of nearly six million 16-24 year olds - 1 in 7 youth - who are neither in school nor working. This is a failure of our society's ability to provide support and connection in moments big and small during a young person's development. But it is anything but a lost cause. It is not only an issue of our country's principles but also an economic one. Reconnecting these aptly named opportunity youth has the potential to return to society $93 billion annually in recovered wages, taxes, and social services and strengthen the talent pipeline.

To begin making those connections, we must shift employers' perceptions about opportunity youth and that's exactly what the Grads of Life campaign seeks to do. Grads of Life is a multimedia effort launched by a group of nonprofits, including MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, designed to move hiring managers to reconsider the prototype of the "ideal" job candidate. It will also arm them with the tools to offer the very opportunities and support that will return for employers and these dynamic employees. Created in collaboration with the Ad Council, the campaign features TV and radio public services announcements, print advertising and an interactive website with resources to help companies reimagine the hiring and onboarding process. The website includes a directory of organizations that strive to prepare young people for work, and employer testimonials that bring their efforts to life.

Mentoring is one of the four pathways to employment for opportunity youth identified in the Grads of Life campaign. Corporate mentoring is a critical ingredient in the mix of approaches desperately needed to widen the pipeline of talent while also strengthening the current workforce. In fact, studies have shown that 87 percent of employees feel greater loyalty to socially engaged employers and 75 percent of executives believe that a corporate volunteer program significantly impacts a company's ability to recruit and retain talented employees and enhance the company's image as an "employer of choice". Employees also say that volunteering builds skills, makes them feel more pride in their business, increases motivation and leads to higher job satisfaction.


Major national corporations are already leveraging this strategy and tapping into this talent pool. EY's College MAP program pairs employees in 23 cities with high school students to help them navigate the application and financial aid process, provides access to resources, and exposes them to the benefits of higher education. More than 90 percent of students who have participated in College MAP have enrolled in a two- or four-year institution. Smaller business, such as Coastway Community Bank, can also have a significant impact with an equal return on their commitment. The bank has invested 20 years of employee time and financial contributions to mentoring. A full one-fifth of the 150 employees mentor in local schools each year.

Private-sector engagement in mentoring youth and young employees is a smart investment in boosting labor force participation rates and increasing our nation's ability to compete in the 21st century global economy. Opportunity youth may not be your typical candidates but their unique and diverse experiences qualify them as grads of life, who, given the connection and support we should all be afforded, are eager to prove themselves and succeed no matter the headwinds.